Hawaiian Charter Schools Are Mixing Church and State and It May Be Hard to Separate the Two July 3, 2015

Hawaiian Charter Schools Are Mixing Church and State and It May Be Hard to Separate the Two

Hawaii is home to nearly three dozen (publicly-funded) charter schools and most of them have a foundation in the state’s culture… which happens to be steeped in religion. As you can imagine, the lines are crossed pretty often:

Students line up for the Kawaikini Charter School morning assembly, which usually ends in Christian prayer

Every morning before classes begin at Kawaikini Charter School on Kauai, students gather near the campus entrance, turn to the east, and begin a series of chants and songs meant to ready them for learning.

“They pray every morning to start the day,” Stuart Rosenthal, the school’s business manager, said. “And the prayers are almost always Christian.”

Rosenthal filed a complaint with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission earlier this month, accusing the school of eliminating his position for the coming school year because of his repeated criticism of school prayers.

“I work for a public school and am a state employee,” Rosenthal states in his complaint. “I should not be forced to pray to Jesus Christ.”

Jessica Terrell of Civil Beat has a lengthy look at these schools and how they mix “culture and spirituality,” illegally so in some cases. There may be a case to have Hawaiian culture in schools, but not at the expense of violating the Establishment Clause. You get the feeling that if these administrators were ever called out on this, they might do the right thing. Until then, though, there’s no reason for them to change course.

There’s the added problem that Hawaiian culture involves pule (prayer) to local deities that represent “elements of the universe and the ancestors of Hawaiians.” So when these students sing chants, there’s debate over whether it’s really as bad as, say, reciting an explicitly Christian prayer. It’s hard to separate honoring nature from preaching a local religion.

(Thanks to Tater for the link)

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